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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » A Year in a Yawl » CHAPTER XIII A THRILLING FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION
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CHAPTER XIII A THRILLING FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION
With everything drawing, the “Gazelle” rounded the point which had obscured the view of the inlet, and then her crew got the first clear sight of the danger they were so soon to encounter. There flowed the strip of water connecting lagoon with ocean, running out to the parent sea like a mill race; for the tide was on the ebb. When the racing current and the incoming breakers met, there was a crash that could be heard an incredible distance; spray was hurled high in air, and the watery foes seemed to dash each other to vapor! To the left of the channel was the black dome of the boiler of a wrecked boat, blocking half the passage.

Right through this must the “Gazelle” go. Could she get past the huge obstructing cylinder of iron? Would she live to get through those terrifying, battling seas? These questions each boy asked himself as the yacht, answering her helm, readily pointed her bowsprit straight for the opening. With “Old Glory” flapping at the peak in honor of Independence Day, she flew swiftly on. A good breeze was blowing, and, aided by the swift ebb tide, the good boat was soon in the midst of the fray. On they sped, with wind and tide aiding, the “Gazelle” simply flying until she was well on her way in the vortex of the racing chute. Just before loomed the huge round dome of the boiler, and the breakers warred beyond. All was going well, when suddenly the wind failed, and Kenneth, looking up to note the cause, saw a great sand-dune that rose a barrier to the friendly breeze. The yacht, carried by the tide alone, moved on until she reached the first roller, which struck her fairly forward, twisting her around so that she rolled in the trough of the sea.

The boys realized that if help did not come immediately, they were doomed to destruction, either by being dashed to pieces against the boiler, or by being carried broadside into the breakers and then being hammered to fragments. With no wind to give steerage way, they were utterly helpless. Nearer and nearer the yacht drifted, nearer to encounter the two perils. The national ensign hung at the peak limp and dispirited; and Kenneth, watching it to see if some stray breeze might not straighten out its drooping stripes, wondered if their luck had failed them at last. All was done that could be done—the three youngsters were in the hands of Providence; and the skipper watched “Old Glory,” dimly feeling that it was a sort of talisman that would bring rescue.

“OLD CAPE FLORIDA LIGHTHOUSE.”

Nearer and nearer they drifted to the great iron dome; louder and louder sounded the surf. Then, a miracle! The flag moved as if stirred by an invisible hand, the outer corner flapped, the stripes straightened out, and the blue field of the jack stood flat—the succoring breeze had come! It was close work, but the “Gazelle” might yet be saved. If she could be got about in time she would just scrape the boiler and take the breakers head on.

With a warning cry to Arthur, who stood forward, Kenneth threw the helm hard over, and the mate let go the jib. Swift and light as a dancer the good boat spun about, filled, and streaked off on the other tack. Just clearing the boiler, she headed into the combing waves that rose high against the blue sky. For an instant she struggled against the rush of flying spume, her canvas drawing bravely; then she forged on, breasting the hill of water. For another instant she was enveloped in foam, then shaking herself free she dashed into the next, and so on to safety. Though drenched from masthead down, she rode the great seas to the rolling billows of outer ocean, and “Old Glory” snapped triumphantly at the peak.

Beyond the breakers all was plain sailing. The rollers were high and long, but the great hill-like slopes were gradual, and the “Gazelle” coasted up and down them with a lightness and ease that suggested wings.

“Why don’t we celebrate?” said Frank in an aggrieved tone.

Three rousing cheers and a tiger rang out in response, and several rounds were fired from the ship’s miniature cannon, which made up in fuss what it lacked in feathers.

It was good to be sailing on the broad Atlantic, where the sandbars ceased to trouble and the mosquito did not exist. The water traversed was constantly changing. Inland sound succeeded open gulf, and boundless ocean followed inland waters. There was no danger of monotony, for the problems of navigation were constantly arising to the young navigators. Hour after hour the yacht sailed along, rising and falling on the swinging sea. The land was a mere irregular line on the horizon, which disappeared now and then as a rising hill of water hid it from the sight of the crew.

As the sun sank over the distant land, the clouds arose until they formed a black mass that shut out the light and cast a heavy gloom over all.

“We’re in for the usual Fourth of July storm, I guess.” The captain looked rather anxiously at the gathering clouds.

“Can we make harbor before it strikes us?” Arthur inquired.

“We’ll try it,” Kenneth answered, and suiting the action to the word, he eased his sheets and headed directly for shore.

The force of the wind increased as they drew nearer the shore; they were flying along in company with the scraps of water snatched from the wave crests. The clouds grew heavier and more dense, and the light fainter and fainter, until the boys could no longer make out the marks leading to harbor.

For a few minutes Kenneth held on the same course; then, as the light grew dimmer and dimmer, and the wind gathered weight every minute, he wondered whether it would be possible to make harbor.

“We’ll be on shore in a minute, and I can hardly make out that point now,” the skipper said as he looked long into the gloom. “I would rather be out at sea than near an unknown coast with an on-shore gale like this blowing; are you with me, boys?”

“Sure!” Arthur and Frank answered together in a single breath.

The “Gazelle’s” helm was put down and she started in her fight to windward. Not until they faced the wind did the boys realize how hard it was blowing; the spray dashed into their faces cut like knives, and the roaring was almost deafening. Slowly but steadily the “Gazelle” thrust her way into the wind and away from the thundering breakers. Soon heaven’s pyrotechnics began, and the boys on their wee chip of a boat, on an ocean dashed to foam, were treated to an exhibition of fireworks that threw into the shade all the poor efforts of man to do honor to the nation’s birthday. It was rather terrifying, but when the thunder ceased and the rain stopped, the air had such a clean, washed smell, that the boys were glad to be out in it, though all hands were wet to the skin and the yacht’s sails dripped like trees after a heavy rainfall. It was late when harbor was made, and all hands were glad enough when things were ship-shape and they could turn in for the night, declaring, each one, from captain to cook, that the Fourth had been fitly celebrated.

A few days later, the “Gazelle” anchored off St. Augustine, that ancient city of the Spaniards, and modern winter resort. Now it was deserted by its Northern visitors, but it still hummed in a subdued sort of way, unexcited by the hope of Northern dollars. Kenneth and his friends found that even in summer the habit of charging three prices still clung to the people of the town, so they made haste to get away.

Straight out to sea the young mariners went, planning to make port at Fernandina, nearly on the line dividing Georgia and Florida. It was a longer run than the captain had anticipated, and it was nearly dark when they came near to “the haven where they would be.”

“What do you say, boys,” Kenneth inquired of his companions; “shall we try for it?”

“It is getting pretty dark,” suggested Frank. “Can’t see the buoys marking the channel.”

“That’s right; look at the glass, Art.”

“Going down like thunder,” reported the mate emphatically.

“Let’s try for it,” said Arthur.

“I’d rather be in harbor if we are going to have another Fourth of July storm,” Frank suggested, changing his ground.

“Well, I’m sorry to go against the judgment of you fellows, but I think that we had better stay outside than run up against a lot of shoals in the dark we know nothing about.”

The captain pronounced his opinion with an air of one who has considered the subject and has finally made up his mind.

Though the other two disagreed with Kenneth, they had long ago realized that there must be a head to an expedition like this, and they were willing to abide by the skipper’s judgment.

“All right, old man,” Frank replied. “Shall I hang out the side lights?”

“Please. Light up the drug store.” Frank winced at this ancient joke, and went below to fill and trim the red and green lights.

The little thirty-foot yacht, with her precious freight, continued her course out to sea in spite of the falling barometer and the almost absolute surety of a storm to come. It was surely a bold thing to do—many a skipper of a larger craft would have hesitated before going out upon the open ocean in the face of a storm at night, when harbor was so close at hand. But Kenneth had absolute confidence in the vessel he had so thoroughly tested and in the courage of his tried and true companions.

Not till midnight did the storm reach its height; then the “rains descended, and the floods came.” The wind blew a fearful gale, and the pitchy blackness, rent at times by vivid lightning, closed in around the tossing yacht like a mighty hand.

Only those who have passed through one of the sudden storms which arise so frequently in those waters can form any idea of its vicious fury. The wind shrieked, the waves increased in power and volume, until the “Gazelle” sank out of sight behind them, or was raised to a dizzy pinnacle from which she coasted down, her bowsprit pointing almost directly to the bottom. The wind-driven rain cut so that it was impossible to face it; and though the boys were clad in oilskins, from closely tied sou’westers to bare ankles, the wet penetrated the seams, ran down their necks, and drenched them through and through. All hands were on watch that night; the hatches were battened down tight. They tried their best to keep to windward, but the tossing of the boat shook them round the narrow cockpit like dice in a box. Conversation was impossible; the wind snatched the words from their mouths and carried them out of hearing instantly. All was dark except for the fitful flash of lightning and the dim radiance of the binnacle lamp in Kenneth’s face as he swayed over it to watch his course.

One, two, three hours passed, and the fury of the storm increased. It was a terrible strain on the young mariners, and each wondered in his inmost heart if they would come out of it alive. Somehow, they did not quite believe they would. Battered and bruised, wet, chilled, and utterly weary of buffeting with wave and wind, they clinched their teeth and by sheer force of will kept up their courage.

“What’s that?” Kenneth’s voice sounded weak and far off, but the accent was sharp and anxious for all that, and unmistakable.

There was a sharp crack that the three heard clearly above the howling wind and snarling sea. Something had parted, some vital part had given way. The “Gazelle” sailed less surely, she staggered up the steep sea slopes more heavily. Anxiously the three boys looked forward, upward, all around to find the cause; they dared not stand up to investigate, they could only look and long for a lightning flash to reveal the damage.

“There, look!” Frank shouted, and rose half way to his feet, only to be dashed violently to the deck again.

A flash showed that the main gaff had broken in the middle, and was flapping heavily against the stout canvas of the mainsail.

The three boys stared at each other questioningly, though only an occasional flash of lightning revealed their faces. Each knew that something must be done—that unless the mainsail was lowered very soon it would be torn to tatters by the jagged ends of the broken gaff; or the broken spar banging around with the swaying of the yacht might injure some of the standing rigging and weaken the mainmast stays.

The tempest had not abated in the slightest, the wind still roared a gale, and the rain came down in a steady flood; the “sea rose mountains high.”

“Take the stick, Arthur.” Kenneth made a funnel of his hands and roared to the mate. He had conceived a plan to reach the halliards at the foot of the mast and lower the broken stick. Hazardous as the plan was, it must be done.

Kenneth tied a stout line around his body, and, taking a turn round a cleat close to the companion way, he gave the end to Frank.

“Pay out slowly, but be sure you keep a turn so that if I should go overboard you’d have me—see?” Kenneth shouted in his friend’s ear. The other answered that he understood, and grasped the skipper’s arm a second, a token of devotion and confidence that had a world of meaning in it.

Grasping the windward rail that ran round the roof of the cabin, Kenneth, flat on his face, began the perilous journey. It was scarcely fifteen feet, a mere step, but a journey to the North Pole could have hardly been more dangerous. Crawling, creeping, rolling, the boy painfully made his way along. Frequently he was drenched with water and had to hold on to the slender rail with might and main. The wind beat the rain in his face; the motion of the yacht wrenched at his hands as if trying to make him let go; the broken gaff slatted and slapped over his head, threatening to fall and knock him senseless. At length the plucky boy reached the mast, and shouting to Frank to let go the line, lashed himself securely to it. Arthur brought the boat up into the wind for a moment, though there was imminent danger of being swamped, while Kenneth let go the halliards and the mainsail came down with a run. Frank sheeted home the lowered boom, making it solid in its fore and aft position. Then came the hardest part of all—furling the mainsail. How it was done Kenneth could scarcely tell. He came within an ace of being dashed overboard twenty times; but he escaped at last to reach the cockpit, safe but utterly exhausted. “The Gazelle,” under head sails and jigger only, rode out the gale. Dawn showed the storm-worn boys the entrance to a safe harbor, into which they thankfully crept, and for half the day they slept the deep, dreamless sleep of utter weariness.

Six days later the “Gazelle” sailed into the harbor of Savannah, Kenneth having repaired the gaff in the meantime. She had little of the look of a boat that had passed through a storm which would have been serious for a vessel five times her size. Her crew, however, showed the effect of the battle with the elements; their white working suits were decidedly dingy, and the white rubber-soled shoes they wore were sorely in need of pipe-clay.

The harbor of Savannah was full of vessels of all sorts and conditions—schooners, two, three, and four masters; trim coast-wise steamers, and a migratory “tramp” or two. Kenneth took advantage of the day to examine as closely as possible the lines and construction of the boats in harbor, and so added to the store of information which he had come so far to find.

The morning of the “Gazelle’s” departure for waters new an English tramp churned out of the harbor. As she went past the yacht, Kenneth and Arthur, who were on deck, noticed a man working far aft, coiling down some lines. Suddenly the man dropped his work, leaped the rail, and, with arms high in air, jumped into the seething water. Arthur, who was nearest, jumped into “His Nibs,” cast loose the painter, and rowed frantically to the place where the man had disappeared; but before he could reach the spot he had risen, waved his arms, and sank again. It was hardly a minute before the sailor came up once more, but to the anxious boys it seemed hours. He rose within easy reach of the boat, and grasped it with a fervor that dispelled the idea of suicide at once. Arthur helped him in and rowed him over to the dock, where a burly policeman arrested him for attempted suicide. The rescued man looked out across the harbor and saw his ship steaming off without him, and seemed glad to be within the clutch of the law. The Englishman, for so he proved to be, had been so attracted by the American seaport, that he had taken the risk of drowning for the sake of reaching “the land of the brave and the home of the free.”

Full of watermelon and in high glee, the young sailormen in their trim little ship weighed anchor, sailed down the Savannah River, and out on the broad Atlantic on the way to Charleston, South Carolina.

Two days after leaving Savannah the “Gazelle” dropped anchor off Charleston, and for forty-eight hours the boys went from place to place in the fine harbor, visiting the various points of interest. Fort Sumter, into which the first shot of the Civil War was fired, stood peacefully on its island—deserted, a mere relic of former greatness. The yacht took shelter behind it when a sharp squall came up as she was starting out on her next run northward.

It was the season of squalls, apparently, for they had hardly been twenty-four hours out from Charleston, when Kenneth, observing the mercury of the barometer dropping rapidly, put in to the nearest harbor, Bull Bay, to avoid a stormy night at sea. Instead of a storm, however, the wind fell flat, and for two days the yacht was unable to get out.

The harbor was a beautiful one; but the lack of wind and a blazing sun made life aboard almost unendurable.

“I’d give a farm for an ice-cream soda,” said Arthur wearily.

Just then Frank came from below. “I heard you fellows say that it was too hot to eat; it’s lucky you feel so, for the larder is about empty.” Frank had been looking for the wherewithal to get supper.

“You don’t mean to say that you haven’t anything to eat?” said Kenneth and the mate almost together—their appetites suddenly returning with lamentable strength.

“I’ve got some beans.”

“What’s the matter with beans?” Arthur appeared relieved.

A movable oil stove with a makeshift top was rigged on deck, in order to give the cabin a chance to cool, and a pot containing the precious beans was set over to cook.

While the skipper and Frank went ashore to explore, Arthur stayed aboard to keep company with the beans. The two found what Frank declared to be bear tracks, and for some distance they followed them: but Bruin did not show himself. Returning to the yacht, they found Arthur still brooding over the beans, and since there was scarcely anything else to do, the three boys sat under the awning rigged over the main boom, and did their best to keep the pot from boiling by persistent watching.

It was getting near seven o’clock, and the boys were already wishing that the beans were done, when they saw a little steamboat coming up the bay. She looked familiar, and as she came near, all three boys watched to see if they knew her. At length she drew abeam, and they read her name on the paddle-box. A St. Augustine boat on her way to Washington. The yacht and the steamboat had left together, and the yacht had reached Bull Bay two days ahead. The boat went on her way, and the boys were congratulating themselves on their good speed, when the swells from the steamboat began to come rolling in. The “Gazelle” commenced to sway. “The beans,” cried Arthur, and reached for the handle of the pot. Alas, too late! the thing tottered and fell overboard, and Arthur, thinking of nothing but the precious food about to be lost, reached far out after it. A big roller coming in at that precise instant tipped him over, too, and he went head first right into the pot full of beans that had not yet had time to sink.

Arthur rose to the surface the sorriest looking creature that a mere human being could ever manage to be. His hair was plastered with beans, his face framed with them, and the expression on his countenance was woebegone in proportion to the unpleasantness of his predicament. Frank and Kenneth roared with laughter, but Arthur, probably not having the same sense of humor under the circumstances, did not see the joke, and the annoyance on his dismal, bean-beplastered face added greatly to their mirth.

Supplies must be procured at once, somehow, somewhere, or the crew would be in danger of starving to death; so the young sailors took advantage of the rising wind to get out of Bull Bay and continue their journey.

The weather conditions were of the best when Kenneth and Arthur turned in, so Frank took the helm alone. The pale gleam of the starlit sky served but to emphasize the darkness, and Frank, steering far out to sea to avoid the long bar of Cape Romain, found it hard to keep awake. It was very late at night, and Arthur and Kenneth were below, sleeping soundly, when they were both awakened by a loud cry from Frank.

Kenneth rushed on deck just as the “Gazelle” rose on the crest of a great breaker.

“Put her about,” he shouted. “We’re going ashore. Quick!”

Frank put the tiller hard over, and the yacht, responding, spun round, the boom came over swiftly, and, taking Kenneth unawares, knocked him overboard.

“Arthur!” Frank yelled down the companionway, “come up; Ken’s overboard!”


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